MPs are considering the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill in a Committee of the whole House, Sir William Cash made the following interventions during yesterday’s debate:
Sir William Cash: The right hon. Gentleman is pursuing this matter relentlessly. Will he explain why he is doing so? I suggest that it is because he knows that the answer to the question he is putting depends on whether the European Court of Justice gets its hands on this matter. That is what it is about, as I am sure he will accept.
Alex Salmond: To be told I am pursuing something relentlessly by the hon. Gentleman is a compliment that I shall treasure. This is not about the European Court of Justice; it is about this House having a genuine choice at some stage. It must be able to look at what the Government have negotiated and say yes or no, without the sword of Damocles of a bad deal or no deal, which was the threat from the Prime Minister, hanging over it.
Sir William Cash: I hope the Committee will allow me to mention that today, 7 February, is 25 years to the day since the signing of that fateful Maastricht treaty. I see that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) is looking at me with a wry smile on his face. I do not doubt for a minute that he will recall that he once said—I hope I am not mistaken—that he had not read the treaty. Perhaps he never said anything of the kind, and I should be more than happy to accept his assurance to that effect from a sedentary position.
At the time, I tabled some 150 amendments, and I voted against the treaty 47 or 50 times. I have to say that I will not vote against this Bill in any circumstances whatsoever. Indeed, this will be the first occasion on which I shall not have voted against European legislation since 1986. The legislation passed during that year included the Single European Act. When I tabled the sovereignty amendment to that legislation, I was not even allowed to speak to it because it was not selected for debate, which I found difficult to accept at the time. However, we have now moved well ahead. We have had a referendum, the proposal for which was accepted by six to one in the House. We have also had a vote on the principle of this very Bill, which was passed by 498— 500 if we include the tellers—to 114.
In deference to the other Members who wish to speak, I shall not go through the intricacies of this vast number of new clauses. I do not think that that would help us much, for a very simple reason—the bottom line is that they would effectively provide for a veto to override the result of the referendum. It is as simple as that.
Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): My hon. Friend said that he had tabled 150 amendments off his own bat. Surely he is contradicting his own argument. The whole point of this place is to challenge what we do not believe in, on the basis of principle. That is what we are trying to do, and my hon. Friend should be supporting us.
Sir William Cash: I am so glad that my hon. Friend has made that point. The difference between what I was doing in those days and what is happening now is that we were arguing against the Government’s policy of implementing European government, which is what the Maastricht treaty was about—incidentally, the electorate made clear in the referendum that they now accept that. Moreover, we were arguing in favour of a referendum, which we have now had. My amendments were moving in the right direction, in line with what the Government have now agreed following the referendum and in line with what the people themselves agreed.
Paul Farrelly: The hon. Gentleman—my next-door neighbour from Stone—is clearly enjoying his days in the sun. Like the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), I did not vote for the referendum legislation. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what regard he has had, over his 40 years of campaigning, for the two thirds of people who, at the time when he started his campaign, voted for the UK to remain in the European Union?
Sir William Cash: I can only say that, in our democratic system, six Members to one in the House of Commons, and indeed the House of Lords, voted in favour of a referendum, by means of a sovereign Act of Parliament, to give the people a say in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency as well as mine next door to it—not to mention in Stoke-on-Trent Central, where quite an interesting test will take place in a few days’ time. The fact is that the decision was given to the people by an Act of Parliament, and they made the decision to leave. That is definitive. I see no purpose in wasting time on the intricate arguments we have heard so far, many of which go around in circles. The real question is: do we implement the decision of the United Kingdom or not? The answer is that we do, and we must. That was conceded by this House, and by almost everybody—I say, with great respect, to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe that he did not, but the bottom line is that we are giving effect to the decision of the United Kingdom electorate.
Alex Salmond: Unless my memory betrays me, the hon. Gentleman himself was one of the two thirds back in 1975 when he voted for the European Community, so all these years he was campaigning against the sovereignty of that decision; indeed, he was campaigning against his own sovereignty and his own decision.
Sir William Cash: That is politics, as the right hon. Gentleman knows only too well, because he has a similar experience in his position with regard to Scotland.
The bottom line is that we are faced with a simple decision, which is going to be decided in a vote later today, I imagine—it might be in part tomorrow as well, and then there will be Third Reading. I hope that all these attempts to, in my judgment, produce different versions of delay will effectively be overridden by the vote taken by the House as a whole, in line with the decision taken by the British people. That is the right way to proceed.
I would like to add one further point, with respect to the Bill itself. I am in no way criticising the selection of amendments, because I think it is entirely right that we should have an opportunity to look at a variety of permutations before the main vote is cast. But I have to remind the Committee that the Bill, which was passed by 498 to 114, simply says that it will
“confer power on the Prime Minister to notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention”,
as expressed by the referendum itself,
“to withdraw from the EU.”
Clause 1 simply says this, and no more:
“The Prime Minister may notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.”
I am glad to see that it goes on to say—just to put this matter to bed, in case anybody tries to argue that, somehow or other, this could be overridden by some other European Union gambit— that “This section”, which we have already passed in principle,
“has effect despite any provision made by or under the European Communities Act 1972 or any other enactment.”
In other words, nothing that emanates from the European Union is to stand in its way. That is a very simple proposition. The Bill is short because it should be short.
I would just like to make one last point, looking back at what the Supreme Court said. The Supreme Court made a judgment on one simple question: should we express the intention to withdraw and notify under article 50 by prerogative or by Bill? There was a big battle, and many people took differing views. We respect the Supreme Court decision, and that is why we have this Bill. The fact is that that is final.
In paragraphs 2 and 3 of the judgment, the court itself made it clear what the judgment was meant to be about, which was whether this should be done by Bill or prerogative. The court said it should be done by Bill. It added—these are my last words on the subject for the moment—that it was about one particular issue, which was the one I have mentioned. The court then said the judgment had nothing to do with the terms of withdrawal, nothing to do with the method, nothing to do with the timing and nothing to do with the relationship between ourselves and the European Union. Yet new clause 1 spends its entire verbiage going into the very questions that the Supreme Court said the decision was not about. So that new clause and the others are all inconsistent both with the Supreme Court decision and with the decisions taken on Second Reading.
Sir William Cash: I am sure that it is in order. The problem is whether we vote for it, and there are extremely good reasons for not doing so. New clause 1 and the other amendments have been tabled by honourable people—hon. Members on both sides of the House, and some right hon. Members—but they know perfectly well what they are doing. They are trying to delay, to obstruct and to prevent the Bill from going through, and I say, “Shame on you!”